Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Genius of Tom Petty's Lyric Writing

This is one of those blog posts I’ve been trying to write all day, but I feel too gutted to write coherently. I hope it makes sense.

In times like this--after things like hurricanes and the horrific event in Las Vegas--people in the live music community turn even more strongly to music. Yesterday, we lost Tom Petty, one of our those whose music I often turn to during such times.

Tom Petty’s “Refugee” fueled my rock and roll dreams. If I had fifty cents for every time I’ve belted along to that plaintive wail of his on “Refugee,” I would be very rich. (Fifty cents was the price of the jukebox at the pizza joint we liked. You got two songs, but the jukebox had a $.50 minimum.)

And “American Girl”? Dreaming of leaving the small town I was stuck in as a teenager, I was that girl in the first verse. Damn…How did he know?

Ironically enough, my “a little more to life somewhere else” included working for a promoter, and later for an agent, who each happened to do a lot of Tom Petty shows.

Tom Petty was so beloved in the industry. I really hope he knew that, because he was one of those stalwart, hardworking artists you thought would always be there. Even at 66, even after years of what touring wear and tear does to the body, even after the rock and roll lifestyle, we all thought he’d always be here.

In the music business, one of the ultimate compliments you can pay an artist is to still genuinely love their music just as much after working on one of their projects as you did before. I never stopped loving Tom Petty's music. If anything, my respect for him grew even more.

In my humble opinion, “American Girl” is a piece of underrated song lyric writing genius. I think it gets overlooked because like one of my favorite authors, Raymond Chandler, TP chose plain and simple words for his storytelling. There are no flowery metaphors or overblown words… just, honest, gritty truth.

And, like Raymond Chandler, Tom Petty made his writing look easy. Only when you actually try to write something like it yourself do you realize just how damn hard it is to do.

In fact…go listen to “American Girl.” I’ll wait. If you have Apple Music ('cause, you know, Beatles), the lyrics are there when you click on the song. If you don’t know the words, you’ll probably need the lyrics, because like Mick and Elton, TP had a wonderful way of garbling his words. (God love ‘em, I can never understand what Mick and early Elton are singing.)

OK, ready? Listen to the way each word in “American Girl” is placed, and where each one rises and falls to the music…Not even to the music. In the music would be more accurate to say. In “American Girl” the music and lyrics are firmly meshed into each other, as if they appeared at the same time via some sort of simultaneous creative combustion.

And how the hell did a 26-year-old guy so accurately capture the psychology of a young girl? In my writer’s group, men far older than twenty six struggle with writing female characters.

In “American Girl” Tom Petty doesn’t just write a female character, he knows what’s going on in her head better than she does. He knows how she got to that place, “stan-ding a-lone on her bal-con-NAY-AY.”

In writer’s terms, the girl in “American Girl” is the ultimate of a fully developed character. How many novelists, having far more words and time from the reader to work with, can say that?

And while we're talking about writerly things...how 'bout that slick change in Point of View, from the verse to the chorus and then back again? He goes from being the distant narrator to being in the story with her. Not easy to pull off, my friends...I've been writing since I was six and still struggle with  POV.

Then there’s the ambiguity of that one line in the chorus: “Take it easy, baby / make it last all night”: Is she Hoovering up all the cocaine, or is she, to put it delicately, having an intimate encounter with the narrator, and he’s telling her to slow down?

The interpretation is up to the listener…or to the singer, if you’re covering it with your band. Either interpretation works, and in a way that manages to slip past the ears of censors and parents.

“American Girl” wasn’t the only time Tom Petty’s lyrics accurately got into the head of a girl. He also does it in the first verse of “Free Fallin’”: “Loves horses, and her boyfriend too.” Sorry guys, but for a girl of that age, TP nailed down the order of importance. The horse knows it all. Tom Petty somehow knew this.

This morning it was cloudy outside…uncharacteristic for L.A. at this time of year. A layer of storm clouds, running in a straight line, literally covered the sunshine, which was peeking out from underneath.

As I looked out my kitchen window while I listened to “American Girl” and made my coffee on the brightly colored vintage tile counter tops I’d pictured as a kid dreaming of L.A., I realized there was probably a rainbow somewhere over Los Angeles.

I’d like to think that if there was, it was for Tom Petty. The band shell of the Hollywood Bowl, where he just played last week, has always reminded me of a rainbow.

RIP TP. You will be missed.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Roles of the Agent, Manager, and Promoter: How Concerts Are Booked, and Who Does What

Every summer, I get questions about how concerts are booked and how the relationships between band, manager, agent, and promoter work together. Many of the questions are based on an incorrect public perception that bands “just decide” to put on a show or “just decide” to go out on tour, or that the band hires a promoter.

I’m not sure where they got those assumptions, but the public literally has the process backwards. Maybe the plot of the old Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland “Let’s put on a show!” movies still lingers on in the media. The fact that artists are contractually prohibited from discussing deals doesn’t help, so when an artist talks about the latest tour, it can sometimes seem like all the planning comes from the artist.
For those who may have missed it on MusicBizAdvice.com, once again, here’s how concerts are booked:

This post covers the traditional, local promotion method of booking shows. Unless the artist is an established star artist with a 360 deal on a major label or is the opening act for a major artist's tour, the artist is most likely to book shows by multiple promoters over the course of a tour. (Top concert artists' tours are usually handled by one promoter for the entire tour.) [Specifically, top concert artists' tours are usually handled by one promoter for the entire tour, with various services contracted out to local promoters. Added for clarification by Randi Reed 9/16/15.]

Artist = band or performer. That may seem obvious, but I include it to prevent people and search engines from inquiring about paintings.

= oversees all aspects of an artist’s career. The manager works with the artist to develop a long-term career plan and oversees all aspects of the artist’s business life. In the context of booking live performances, the manager helps the artist decide which employment offers are most helpful to the long-term career plan. The agent, not the manager, does the actual booking.

The manager has many roles in the day-to-day operations of the band’s career. A few examples include communications with the label, assisting the artist with hiring additional musicians, hiring crew members, and tasks that help the artist manage his personal life as well.

Agent (also known as Talent Agent) = Think “employment agent”. The agent seeks employment opportunities for the artist in the form of offers from promoters, presents the offers to artist’s manager, and then negotiates the contracts for the offers the artist accepts. The agent sees that all contractual obligations for the show are met by the promoter, and if something goes wrong with a booking, the agent works to resolve it on behalf of the artist. In many states in the U.S., a licensed talent agent is the only person who can legally negotiate an employment contract for an artist. Talent agencies are also governed by some of the same laws as employment agencies for other professions.
Concert Promoter (also known as Talent Buyer, aka show Producer, aka Presenter)
= the artist’s employer for live performances. Specifically, the artist is an independent contractor hired by the promoter.

The title “concert promoter” is a bit of a misnomer, because the promoter’s job is everything relating to the entire show, from hiring the artist to advertising and promotion. Venue rental, permits, staging, local personnel, security…if it’s needed to make a show happen, the promoter is responsible for doing it. That’s why some show contracts refer to the promoter as “Producer”. (In some cases where the artist travels with their own staging or production, the promoter reimburses the artist’s costs. But not always.) Other show contracts refer to the promoter as “Purchaser” because the promoter is purchasing a service from the artist, but in context of live entertainment, they all mean the same thing.

The relationship between Agent, Manager, and Concert Promoter, and how they work together in a traditional booking arrangement:

   The artist’s agent obtains offers for show bookings from promoters. For artists with an established reputation, promoters usually reach out to the agent with offers that include breakdowns of ticket prices proposed by the promoter, the expected gross, and expected expenses.

2.    The agent presents the offers to the artist’s manager, who helps the artist choose the offers that stand the best chance of helping the artist’s career.

3.    The agent then negotiates the contract for the accepted offer, issues the contracts, and obtains a non-refundable deposit from the promoter. The dollar amount of the deposit depends on talent agency policy and the promoter’s stature and reputation in the industry, ranging from 10% to 50% of the artist’s guaranteed fee.
4.    The promoter does his part, the artist shows up and performs the show, and everyone gets paid.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned specific types of deals, or "standard" or “typical” percentages of splits, or “typical” artist guarantees. That’s because despite what you may have been told by an insistent promoter, there’s no “standard” type of deal or “standard” split between artist and promoter. I say this as someone who has worked on both sides of the contract, who has seen offers come in and go out for many types of artists, from local club band to international superstar, for every major city in the U.S. and abroad. There are many different types of deals and splits. Here’s why:

Ticket prices and artist guarantees are based on whatever the market will bear at a given time.

The conditions of the concert marketplace vary from year to year, as well as by artist (and that artist’s accompanying demographics and box office history), place (and that city’s accompanying demographics), and by what time of year the show will happen.

Other major factors include the type of show (Is it a one-off show or part of a tour? Is the show at the beginning of a tour? Or is it part of a string of added dates to a sold-out tour? Is the tour a reunion tour? Is the show at a special venue? What's the venue capacity?), where the artist is in the arc of their career and what’s expected to happen during the period the show or tour takes place, the number of artists of a particular genre who are on tour at that time, how many other artists with similar ticket prices to the artist's are out on the road at the same time, and how many artists with big ticket prices will be going on sale or will be out on the road at that time.

I haven’t even mentioned the overall economic conditions of wherever the concert or tour will take place: do people have money to spend, and if so, are they likely to spend that money on entertainment? Are gas prices expected to be unusually high or low? That affects the costs of touring. All these things are major considerations.

Given all those variables, you can see how types of deals and their accompanying ticket prices and splits can vary tremendously. Now throw in relationships and any favors one party may happen to owe another—remember, the music business is a people business based on relationships, favors, and timing. Suddenly, what might seem “standard” to one may be very low or very high to someone else.

At this point, you may be wondering, "What about agent-less booking apps indie musicians use to book shows?"

In that case, the artist is acting as their own agent, so everything the agent would do becomes the artist's responsibility.

In some ways, agent-less booking apps make it easier for artists who don't have access to a good talent agent. It's hard to get a good agent, and to get a good one, more often than not the artist must be signed to a label.

However...After a certain point, using an app instead of a good licensed talent agent can be detrimental to the artist, because apps tend to devalue the artist in the live music marketplace. A good agent constantly reassesses his clients' value in the live music marketplace and knows how and when to negotiate better offers to advance the artist's career.

Most importantly, if something goes wrong with a show, the agent is the artist's most important ally. In the legal agreement between an artist and a licensed talent agent, the agent agrees to represent the artist in matters relating to any employment he or she has procured for that artist. Not only that, in many states a licensed talent agent is legally bound to represent the artist when something goes wrong with a booking they procured.

Promoters know this and tend to treat artists with good licensed talent agents more professionally. Without a good agent, the artist is vulnerable.

My advice for artists? Use an agent-less booking app only as long as you have to. Meanwhile, never trust a promoter to do all the advertising for your shows. In live entertainment, the artist's only leverage is the number of people who actually buy tickets and concessions, so work your butt off to promote and advertise your band and your shows in order to consistently increase the size of the audience for every show. Then use the leverage of your ever-increasing draw to get a good licensed talent agent.

Randi Reed, 

Founder, MusicBizAdvice.com

©2015 Randi Reed and MusicBizAdvice.com. All rights reserved.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Industry Resume Blunder (And What to Include Instead)

Music business resumes can be daunting to put together, especially if you're new to the music industry and are assembling one to try to get an internship or entry-level job behind the scenes.

If you want a behind the scenes job in the music industry, or any creative industry for that matter, you must remember one very important thing:

You must actually want to work behind the scenes. (You'd be amazed at how many people forget that part.)

Your resume must demonstrate that. Here's why:

If you want to promote your own music career, working for another musician probably isn't going to get you there. You'll be too busy trying to move your own career ahead to do a great job on the tasks that can move your boss's career ahead, and vice-versa.

If you want to be famous, you more than likely won't cut it at all.  

That would be kind of like working for the royal family and thinking that by doing so, you could become a king or queen yourself. Ain't gonna happen, my friend. Not in today's music industry, and especially not on someone else's dime.

As the saying goes, "it ain't about you."

I'm writing about this because more and more, when I review internship applications I see resumes highlighting the person's musical abilities rather than skills they can bring to the tasks at hand. I also meet and get emails from people who think they want to work behind the scenes and ask for advice how to get in, but after a question or two it's clear they really just want to be famous themselves.

That's not what an employer wants.

Approaching a job with that mindset also isn't healthy for you.
Your employer is not going to hear you sing.

If, on the other hand, you're the kind of person who really likes to know--and can handle the realities of--what goes on behind proverbial circus tent, you might have a shot.

You must also enjoy dealing with all that goes into pulling the rabbit out of the hat to make the magic happen*. In a pinch, you might even have to help do some of the hoisting or make a run for carrots when that bunny doesn't want to budge (though if you're good at your job, you already have those carrots in your back pocket just in case).

I love all that stuff. The first time I was backstage at a big show, I found all that frenetic activity far more fascinating than anything my own band was doing. I quit my band the next week and never looked back.

More importantly, until years later when I actually had to do a bio, I didn't include my musical experience in my resume. Instead, I highlighted the fact that I'd managed our band.

Consider that your test if you want to work behind the scenes: do you freak out at the thought of not including your musical experience in your resume? Are you OK with it if the subject never comes up?

Think about it very carefully before you apply for a job behind the scenes in the entertainment industry.

There was a time when an aspiring musician could use a behind-the-scenes job as an entry to his or her own career. With the shrinking of the music industry, those days are over.

No more reality show contestant wannabes working behind the scenes, please. Just people who can deal with reality!**

*No bunnies were harmed in the writing of this post, or at any time during my career. (It's a metaphor, people.) Although there was a guy who ate live crickets onstage...

**No, I'm not hiring. I'm speaking in general terms.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Can We Talk? Joan Rivers Haters, Get Over it Already!

God this blog is becoming a montage of R.I.P. notices lately.

Joan Rivers would hate that. So I'm not going to do that to her, although I do wish it for her.
My heart goes out to her family, friends, and all who knew and loved her.
I didn't know Miss Rivers personally but have booked her, and we had many, many mutual colleagues and friends. (S.L., you did a fantastic job with her career. Kudos.) My heart goes out to them. It's painful enough for those of us who weren't the closest.

Some people resonate through their friends and colleagues, via their friends' and colleagues' warm words. Joan Rivers was one of those beloved people. Everyone who worked with her loved working with her, and I've never met anyone who didn't feel that way about her personally as well.

She hated the word "legend" but she was, in the best sense of the word, in which a legend is current as well as with a long-respected body of work.

There's so much I want to say about Miss Rivers, which I will when I collect my thoughts, because she defined the words "trailblazer"and "resilience", but for now, I want to address her haters:

Get a clue. (Actually, Miss Rivers would have said, "Get a F******g clue" and probably would have added a "shut up" as she did to her hecklers, so I went really easy on you.)

If you're offended by the thing she said to Splash Media about "Palestine" you're either grossly misinformed or weeks out of date. Miss Rivers addressed it personally weeks ago on her website. Either you didn't get that memo, or are determined to be nasty and hateful and don't care.

She was an 81 year-old woman caught off guard, ambushed by cameras, and she said "Palestine" when she was talking about "Hamas".

She addressed and explained this on her website soon after, but the media, loving a controversy, didn't report that part of the story.

She wrote her statement herself, from the heart, rather than having a publicist write it for her. It wasn't her style to have a publicist write something for her when, as a writer, she was perfectly capable.

One thing I know about Miss Rivers--and anyone who worked with her will concur--is that Miss Rivers didn't apologize or explain herself unless she sincerely meant it (much to the chagrin of the suits who often tried to get her to). She didn't believe in placating people.

I respect her for that.

Show up on time, know the material, hit your marks, do your best, and if it doesn't work out that night, the show goes on, so you do it again the next night. A total pro, that was always Miss Rivers' motto as a performer.

At the age of 81, she was booked through late November (that I know of--it could be more). The average age of her viewers was 22.5 .

I respect her for that, too. And much, much more, which I'll address in another post.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

R.I.P. Survivor Vocalist Jimi Jamison 1951-2014

One of my earliest vocal influences, Jimi Jamison, passed away over the weekend on Sunday, August 31, 2014 (or perhaps the early hours of September 1).

You may not recognize the name Jimi Jamison, because aside from his work with post-"Eye of the Tiger" Survivor, you had to be a bit of a liner notes geek to know his work. As a kid, I happened to be one of those liner notes geeks, and Memphis-based Jimi Jamison happened to be one of the"go-to" guys for backup vocals for many of the artists I heard on the radio.

That statement doesn't do Jimi Jamison's voice justice, though.
Pre-Pro-Tools, Jimi's voice possessed all four elements of what I call "The Four Perfect Vocal Attributes Of a Great Studio Singer": Soulful, Beautiful, Powerful, and Blendable. Very few voices have all four elements, and at his best, Jimi Jamison could pull any combination of them out of his pocket to suit the needs of a particular track.

Jimi Jamison's studio work was prolific, but Jimi's backup vocalist work I remember hearing the most as a kid
were ZZ Top's Eliminator album (his backup vocals can be heard on "Legs," "Gimme All Your Lovin'" and others) and Krokus's Bob Rock-produced The Blitz album (on which you can most clearly hear him on "Our Love Will Never Die").

Had he never joined Survivor, which gave him a wider audience, MTV video exposure, and a string of hits courtesy of Survivor's Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan's songwriting talents, Jimi Jamison would still have made an OK living as a studio backup and and jingles singer, just as he did before joining Survivor in 1984. When Survivor's lead singer Dave Bickler left the band due to throat problems (long since resolved), Jimi became Survivor's lead singer and found success with the band's Karate Kid soundtrack single and subsequent Vital Signs album and Rocky IV soundtrack single.

Jimi Jamison's lead vocal duties included pre-Survivor stints with D. Beaver, Target, and Cobra. According to a 1993 interview with Deep Purple's Jon Lord, at one point Jimi was asked to join Deep Purple as a replacement for the just-fired Ian Gillian but had to decline, as he was officially still in Survivor.  Post-Survivor, Jimi
co-wrote and performed the theme from Baywatch and recorded and toured as a solo artist.

It was always Jimi Jamison's backup vocalist work that intrigued me most, though. It takes a certain kind of singer to be a successful studio singer, and not many can do it. It's not your project, and the meter's running, so you have to be able to not only deliver, but get it the way the producer wants it on a time crunch.

On a personal note, many years ago, Jimi Jamison was one of my first-ever interviews. It was for a school project and was my first full-length interview, and to get it I went through the same proper channels any other journalist had to go through in those days.

Not yet having a clue about the mechanics of touring at that time, it wasn't until much  later that I realized how cool it was of Jimi to even do that interview: it took place outside, after a Survivor show, on a hot June evening--with a show the next day that required travel by tour bus. Not only was Jimi nice about doing an interview during the load-out, he even had fun with it and treated me like I was a professional journalist instead of like a kid.

Moreover, he immediately put me at ease: when I turned on the tape recorder, he leaned in as if he was about to tell me a deep dark secret...

...and recited paraphrased lyrics of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" ("I was born on a mountain in Tennessee, I killed a b'ar when I was three".)
I'm sure I wasn't the first person Jimi told that version of his "life story" to, but it was so corny it was hilarious. After a good laugh we did the real interview, and he gave me my first-ever "scoop": he'd just completed backup vocals on Joe Walsh's Got Any Gum album.

Another thing I remember about that evening was the proud smile Jimi had when he mentioned his then little boy, James Michael, whom he clearly adored.
Later, Jimi wrote me a kind letter, which I still have somewhere in a box of rock and roll mementos.

Here's where things get a little complicated.
I lost track of Jimi's projects for a while, and although I could do the Hollywood thing and gloss over it or give you a "happy unicorns" Hollywood version of why, that would be a lie. Life isn't all happy unicorns. People are multi-faceted. People have faults. No one is all wonderful or all bad. It's part of being human.

There's no pleasant way to put this: in the '90's after Survivor broke up, there was a nasty legal battle over Survivor's trademark between Jimi and founding guitarist/Survivor songwriter Frankie Sullivan. Having liked Survivor's music before Jimi joined the band, and knowing it had been Frankie's band...let's just say I wasn't Jimi's biggest supporter during that time.

Frankie Sullivan eventually won the Survivor trademark, and he and Jimi settled their differences, even eventually becoming Survivor bandmates again. It took them a few attempts, plus a couple of other changes in the band's lineup, but in the end, they worked things out.

Best of all, for their Summer 2014 tour, Survivor added Dave Bickler to the band, with Dave and Jimi switching lead vocal duties and singing backup on each others' respective hits. Candid photos from Survivor's recent shows, including the August 30 show in Northern California the night before Jimi passed away, depict a band having a good time.

In the end, Frankie Sullivan, Jimi Jamison, and Dave Bickler did what's impossible for most of us after a major conflict: they worked it out, got along and respected each other, and had some fun. Given Jimi's ultimate passing, I'm especially glad they did.

The music world lost an amazing singer this past weekend, and the angels got a voice that, at times, sounded like he already was one.

R.I.P. Jimi Jamison.

My deepest condolences to Jimi's Survivor bandmate brothers, family, and friends.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams R.I.P. 1951-2014: Shining Brilliance

Some people shine so brightly, the planet can’t contain them.

Like brilliant gems, they are the rarest of beings, created under pressure, and sparkling.

I think of Robin Williams as one of those people.

No matter what endeavors they undertake, no matter how successful they may be at those endeavors, and no matter how hard those people may try to be like everyone else, they always shine brighter…whether they want to or not, and whether or not they deep-down believe they even deserve to.

It must be incredibly painful at times…

Especially during those times when, instead of being a brilliant, sparkling gem, maybe they just want to be a pebble and blend in.

Shining brilliance comes with a lot of responsibilities, whether they’re wanted or not.

Shining brilliance is a lot to live up to.

Today I heard a lot of people refer to Robin Williams and his talent as “genius”.

On any other day, I’d agree with them. I’ve said it myself about him many times.

Today, part of me aches when I hear so many people use the word “genius” in reference to him, because I wonder if trying to live up to expectations that come with that word contributed to his pain.

I didn’t know Robin Williams, but he struck me as a gentle spirit.

Maybe, all that shining brilliance was too much to handle. Maybe that shining brilliance was too much for a gentle spirit to grasp, and too much to be contained in one human being, on one small planet.

Robin Williams' death came between last night's Supermoon, and tonight's Perseid Meteor Showers, which seems eerie and strangely fitting.

Maybe, ultimately, all that shining brilliance needed to fly free of the Earthly anchors that  that must have strained to hold his creative spirit enough for average mortals to even barely grasp…

…Especially for him to grasp, because he, too was mortal.

Fly free, and shine brightly, Mr. Williams. May you find peace.    

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

1 800 273 –TALK (8255)

Suicide Prevention Hotline Number (Robin Williams R.I.P.)

Los Angeles is a somber-feeling city today. It feels like the entire show business community is in mourning. I think we are.

Robin Williams, one of the most creative, talented beings we've ever been blessed with, has died of an apparent suicide. He was struggling with depression and had battled addiction issues. He was sober for 20 years, and then his alcohol addiction took hold again.

Robin Williams was so well loved in this town.  He touched so many people with his talent, and his generosity, and his friendship. He was one of the few who people in this most self-absorbed of cities truly rooted for, and their love for him was genuine. The feeling of sadness in this town today is palpable.

If you or someone you know are struggling with depression and thinking of suicide, however fleetingly, call this number:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1 800 273 –TALK (8255)

If you think people don't care about you, or that the world would be better off without you, you are absolutely, positively, 100% wrong.